The story of Mary Draper Ingles is a good reminder of the harsh and sometimes brutal conditions that early settlers faced.
On July 30 or 31, 1755 (the exact date is uncertain), a band of Shawnee Indians swooped down on a frontier settlement called Draper’s Meadow in what is now Blacksburg, Virginia, killing four people and capturing several more. Among the hostages were 23-year-old Mary Draper Ingles and her two sons, 4-year-old Thomas and 2-year-old George. Mary’s husband, William, who had been in a field, harvesting wheat, avoided capture.
The Shawnee headed northwest, forcing their captives over the Appalachian Mountains. According to one account, Mary was pregnant and soon gave birth to a daughter, who may have died on the trail. Other reports make no mention of a baby. At any rate, the Shawnee led their captives to a village on the Ohio River. There Mary was separated from her sons. She and another captive described as “the Old Dutch Woman” were taken farther north to Big Bone Lick, near present-day Cincinnati, where they were put to work making salt.
One October afternoon, the two white women slipped into the forest and set off on an 800-mile-long escape. Avoiding trails for fear of recapture, they backtracked over the mountains, scaling cliffs in places, living on walnuts and wild grapes as they fled. Winter arrived. They trudged through snow and slept in hollow logs. Half mad from exhaustion and hunger, the Old Dutch Woman tried to kill Mary, who managed to get away.
Six weeks after escaping the Indians, a skeletal, ragged Mary Draper Ingles staggered into a cornfield near her old home. She soon reunited with her husband, who had gone to Tennessee and Georgia looking for her. They resumed their pioneer lives and went on to have four more children. Mary lived until 1815, dying at age eighty-three.